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Local farm cuts distance from field to table

A crisp white tent poked out of the blackberry patch at Miller Farms last Wednesday morning.

From Orange Plank Road, which bisects the Spotsylvania County farm, you might have guessed it was intended to shield berry pickers from the recent oppressive heat.

But on this, one of the few days this summer when a little cloud cover offered a slight break from sauna-like conditions, a makeshift kitchen and a table worthy of a magazine spread awaited those who ventured into the patch.

This was Miller Farms’ first crack at what they’re calling “field-to-table” dining.

A group of 20 guests—some invited, some who had seen the minimal marketing the farm did for this first, $35-a-seat, four-course brunch—sat around a white-clothed table in the middle of a blackberry patch and learned a little bit about each course they ate from those who had grown the ingredients, and from the chef behind the whole event.

That would be Keith Click. Click holds down a full-time job at Wegmans, but he spends every bit of his free time scouring the Fredericksburg area for new sources of quality local ingredients, introducing himself to farmers and trying to create opportunities to put his own creativity on the plate for folks who appreciate the beauty of seasonal ingredients.

On Wednesday morning, Click worked frantically in the kitchen he’d set up with a grill, a freestanding burner, a few folding tables and a backdrop of hay bales.

There were the obvious local stars—fresh-picked eggplant, zucchini, herbs, blackberries and farm eggs—and then there were ingredients you might not think about finding locally, like shiitake mushrooms grown at Ken and Terry Crider’s Spotsylvania home. Even the grits were milled in Virginia.

Click, a self-taught chef who has been cooking professionally for about eight years, moved to the Fredericksburg area five years ago.

His wife, Quincy, had a friend who had gone to school with Ben Miller, the son of Jo Ann and Wayne Miller, who now plays a big role in the family farm, so Keith paid a visit one day.

Keith talked up Jo Ann Miller on his first trip out to the farm, and before too long he was leading some of the cooking classes that are given in part of the farm’s former dairy barn.

For a few years after that, Click tried to convince Miller to let him put on a field-to-table meal on the farm, featuring local ingredients. Miller said that as she watched Click over the years, she finally became convinced that he was up to the task, and that the farm could pull off such an event.

Click and the Millers will hold a second field-to-table meal Oct. 8, in the farm’s pumpkin patch. This one will be “Supper at Sunset” instead of a brunch, and it will feature fall produce, including winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and the last of this year’s sweet corn and tomatoes.

The dinner will also feature Papa Weaver’s pork products, out of Madison County.  Tickets are $40 per person, and the 20 available seats sold out within days of notice of the event going up on Miller Farms’ website.

For Miller Farms, this marks another step in the family’s journey from running a dairy operation, which was shut down in 2003, to running a produce farm and market specializing in local products culled from select producers around the region and state.

“We’ve been growing in baby steps, and it’s been the right way to do it,” Jo Ann Miller told her guests last week.

For Click, the meals are an outlet for his creativity, which he would like to be able to display in his own restaurant one day. For now, though, he’s looking ahead to planning October’s meal, and to trying to re-create the field-to-table experience at other area farms.

Click has also done cooking demonstrations at the Spotsylvania County farmers market on Gordon Road. He writes about his experiences and shares a few recipes on his blog, chefclick.blogspot.com.

His chef’s gear and business cards bear the words, “In Season,” two words that he says represent his philosophy for choosing ingredients and planning dishes.

“It’s not about me, it’s about their product,” he said of the farmers he works with. “When you have ingredients that are this nice, you can’t mess it up.”

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/frontburner/2011/08/10/958/